2020 NBA free agency has seen most of the top players reach agreements quickly, so let’s look ahead: What comes next?
Will marquee stars such as Bam Adebayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo sign with their current teams on lucrative extensions? Which teams have the potential for a surprising outcome this season? And will superstars James Harden and Bradley Beal be moved before the season?
Our NBA experts talk about the big trade targets to watch and provide their bold predictions.
1. Besides the Giannis situation, what are you watching most closely?
Tim MacMahon: How the Rockets handle James Harden’s desire to be dealt to the Brooklyn Nets. The Rockets insist that they haven’t given up on winning back Harden’s heart — and the series of moves that resulted in high-scoring center Christian Wood’s arrival in Houston were an aggressive, expensive attempt to improve the roster — but the organization is bracing for life after The Beard. Houston can’t afford to be bullied into a bad trade, and time is on the team’s side, with Harden under contract for two more years.
Bobby Marks: Who is the next player to sign a rookie extension? The obvious choice is that Miami’s Bam Adebayo would join Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox and Donovan Mitchell in the $163 million club. However, the Heat have made it clear this offseason, with the contracts for Avery Bradley, Goran Dragic, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless, that preserving cap space in 2021 is a top priority. An Adebayo extension would likely take them out of the 2021 chase for a max player in free agency. Other names to keep an eye on: Derrick White of the San Antonio Spurs and John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks.
Kevin Pelton: Which Los Angeles team wins the battle for minimum-salary players. Both the Clippers and Lakers are hard-capped after using their non-taxpayer midlevel exceptions, and they have multiple spots to fill. We’ll see which team can recruit better players interested in seeking a championship while playing in Los Angeles.
Jorge Sedano: I’m curious to see how the situation with Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers plays out. In 2017-18, he averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals and won the league’s Most Improved Player award. Oladipo’s comeback from a knee injury thus far has been uneven, but if he can return to his pre-injury form, a contender should look to make a move for him. The question is whether Indiana will sell low soon or hold on until the trade deadline for a shot at a better return.
Tim Bontemps: What happens with Rudy Gobert in Utah. It has been a good offseason for the Jazz, between reaching a deal with Jordan Clarkson, bringing back old friend Derrick Favors and securing Donovan Mitchell with a max contract extension. But with Gobert one year from unrestricted free agency, the final piece of Utah’s offseason will be trying to get Gobert signed to a contract extension to keep him with the franchise long-term. If they can’t reach an agreement, Gobert will become an intriguing trade target.
2. Which trade target do you expect to move, either soon or before the deadline?
Bontemps: While the backcourt duos in Houston (Harden and Russell Westbrook) and Washington (John Wall and Bradley Beal) have garnered the most attention, they’re unlikely to go anywhere. I’ll go a rung lower and say the obvious player to be traded is George Hill, who hasn’t technically been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder yet because of contract stipulations. A combo guard with length, defensive ability, a quality shooting stroke and a reasonable contract, Hill is all but certain to become the latest player the Thunder flip into another first-round pick sometime between now and the deadline.
Pelton: Likewise, I think Hill is going to be an interesting player to watch. His combination of shooting and playmaking makes him an ideal contributor on a contending team. I like the fit for the LA Clippers, but adding Hill would almost certainly mean trading Patrick Beverley or Lou Williams.
Marks: Spencer Dinwiddie. I have the Brooklyn guard as a likely candidate because of his expiring contract. (He has a player option for 2021-22.) The Nets gave $72 million to Joe Harris, and they’re already over the projected $136 million tax threshold in 2021. Bringing back Dinwiddie on a long-term contract ($15 million-$16 million) would see them pay a substantial tax penalty.
MacMahon: John Collins? I don’t predict that with full confidence, but Collins’ fit or lack thereof with the Hawks has certainly piqued interest around the league. Danilo Gallinari, Atlanta’s prized free-agency acquisition, needs to play primarily power forward at this stage of his career. The Hawks have traded for a starting center (Clint Capela) and used the No. 6 overall pick on another big man (Onyeka Okongwu) this year. It’d make more sense for the Hawks to shop Collins rather than pay him.
Sedano: The San Antonio Spurs have been too quiet this offseason. There were rumblings about DeMar DeRozan to the Los Angeles Lakers, but that move never came to fruition. Plus, LaMarcus Aldridge is heading into a contract year. I think there is a chance that they can both move to contending teams before the deadline.
3. Which East team has the potential to go in a surprising direction, based on the offseason so far?
Sedano: The Hawks made moves that put them in the East playoff picture. Acquiring Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic, if the Kings don’t match his offer sheet, gives them needed shooting. Plus, Bogdanovic brings a secondary ball handler who allows Trae Young to play off the ball some. The Hawks’ other young players — De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter — should slot into reserve roles to play with Kris Dunn if Gallinari and Bogdanovic move into the starting lineup.
Marks: Could a team that has a $155 million payroll be a surprise? The answer is yes, considering what the Philadelphia 76ers accomplished. They hired Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey, cleared up the logjam at center by moving Al Horford and shored up their shooting with the additions of Danny Green and Seth Curry. Finally, they added Dwight Howard for the veterans minimum to back up Joel Embiid.
Bontemps: Despite bringing back virtually the same team, I’ll say the Indiana Pacers are going to take a step back from where they were last season. Things could get complicated for Indiana with Victor Oladipo entering a contract year, a mix of players who will expect to get shots and the ongoing question of whether Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner are a workable pairing long-term. It’s a potentially volatile mix that seems like it could change between now and the trade deadline.
Pelton: Toronto. The Raptors spent a good chunk of the 2019-20 regular season playing without Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka because of injuries and kept on rolling. They did well to replace the two veteran centers with Aron Baynes and Alex Len and have Chris Boucher ready to step into a larger role. Toronto would be better off with Gasol and Ibaka, but their losses shouldn’t dramatically change expectations.
MacMahon: I’m not sure you can call Detroit’s direction surprising, but I’m puzzled by the Pistons’ moves. Why would the Pistons let Wood go and overpay Mason Plumlee? And what about Jerami Grant? He’s a good role player with a career average of 9.3 points per game, but is he a potential offensive focal point worth creating cap space via the stretch provision to pay $60 million?
4. Which West team has the potential to go in a surprising direction, based on the offseason so far?
MacMahon: The Phoenix Suns had their best offseason since they signed Steve Nash in 2004. Phoenix set itself up to end a decadelong playoff drought by pulling off a trade for Chris Paul, a phenomenal backcourt partner and mentor for franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Jae Crowder — who wouldn’t settle for a one-year deal to stay in Miami and received $30 million over three years from the Suns — is a strong veteran addition for a team with a young core and serious playoff ambitions.
Sedano: The Portland Trail Blazers did well in free agency. The Robert Covington trade brings them the versatile wing they were missing last season. Derrick Jones Jr. adds another upgrade on defense. Plus, Rodney Hood’s return bolsters the guard rotation. Bringing back Enes Kanter along with the addition of Harry Giles III makes for a nice frontcourt complement to Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins.
Bontemps: I think the New Orleans Pelicans could take a fairly significant step back this season. Although Steven Adams is a good player, I don’t like his fit with the Pelicans at all. They’re a team short on shooting, and now Zion Williamson and Adams take up the same space. I think it’s likely that the Pelicans are closer to the bottom of the West standings than they are to the eighth seed.
Pelton: Utah. Re-signing Jordan Clarkson ensures that the Jazz bring back all eight players who saw at least 900 minutes of action for them last season, and the return of Derrick Favors solidifies the frontcourt. Plus, Bojan Bogdanovic should be back healthy for a run at a top-four seed in the West.
Marks: Portland. I will go bold and say that not only did the Trail Blazers have the best offseason among all teams, but also they are the second-best team in the Western Conference. Portland turned Mario Hezonja into Enes Kanter and Trevor Ariza into Robert Covington, used the midlevel exception on Derrick Jones Jr. and brought back Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony. The Blazers also signed former first-round pick Harry Giles III. Those five players join Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Trent Jr.
Kendrick Perkins and Zach Lowe praise Rob Pelinka for the offseason moves he made to make the Lakers better.
5. What’s your bold prediction for the rest of the offseason?
MacMahon: The Rockets’ pair of superstars who would prefer to be elsewhere won’t get their wish before the season opener. It will take Houston’s front office time to find appropriate value for Harden and Westbrook.
Pelton: No former All-Stars will be traded between now and opening night.
Sedano: The Heat will mine the trade market to add an impact player on an expiring deal.
Bontemps: The Hawks will trade John Collins. Having drafted Okongwu and signed Gallinari, the Hawks have made moves telegraphing that Collins — a talented, young player and one hoping for a contract extension — could be on the move. Given how tilted the Hawks are toward offense, moving an offense-first big such as Collins would make sense, assuming the right deal can be found.
Marks: Giannis will sign the supermax with Milwaukee.